MONTREAL — With all due respect to Bruins fans and the TD Garden, the Bell Centre is a whole other planet of insanity, noise and devotion to the home team.
In the playoffs, the atmosphere that supports the Montreal Canadiens is basically the regular-season “seventh man” on steroids.
As the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series — led by the Habs, 2-0 — shifts to Montreal tonight for Game 3, both the Bruins and Habs know they have to handle the raucous atmosphere in a similar manner. Neither can afford to get too pumped up or distracted.
“We’ve been here a lot. So we know what to expect,” said forward Shawn Thornton after his team’s morning skate in preparation for the big game. “I guess that will help the mental thing. It’s just being ready for it and fighting through it. It’s not an easy building to play in, and they’re a good team. So give them credit. It’s not going to be easy but we’re going to have to find a way to be ready for a good start.”
Montreal forward Michael Cammalleri had a similar take on approaching the start of the game.
“I would imagine that the fans will be pretty enthused tonight,” he said. “It should be an exciting atmosphere. But we need to keep a good focus and use that energy to maybe stay focused and not let it change our game.”
Assuming he returns to the Bruins’ lineup tonight after missing Saturday’s Game 2, this will be Zdeno Chara’s first game action in Montreal since his controversial hit on Habs forward Max Pacioretty. If possible, the Bell Centre faithful might find a whole new level of hatred when he’s in their sightlines.
“I don’t know how much louder you can boo him,” Thornton said about Chara, who did not speak today. “Every time he touches the puck, 20,000 people have booed him here for the four years I’ve been here. I don’t expect anything different. He’s used to it and he’s pretty strong mentally, so I don’t worry about it.”
Cammalleri doesn’t anticipate any extra attention paid to Chara to affect the Habs.
“I guess it will happen more often if they’re cheering or booing more when someone’s on the ice. But even if you have a rush, a rush chance, sometimes you can’t hear a guy, everyone gets excited. … The players are pretty used to that sort of thing,” he said.
While they’ll have to battle the crowd noise in addition to the Canadiens players on the ice, the Bruins will also have to find a level of intensity that doesn’t cause them to do too little or too much, as individuals, in an attempt to salvage this series.
There’s so much at stake, yet there has to be a calmness to Boston’s play in order to execute the game plan they failed to make work during the first two games of the series.
“Loose doesn’t mean not focused, doesn’t mean not intense. But you can’t be nervous, you can’t be tense to the point that you’re taking all your energy out of your system,” said head coach Claude Julien. “So for us it’s a matter of going out there and having the confidence to play the game we know we can. And we’ve shown it throughout this season and it’s a matter of coming out of here and showing it today.”
“You don’t want to be too tight so that you’re gripping the sap out of your sticks,” said Thornton. “But you want to have enough focus so you’re not too loose. You’ve got to find a happy medium. I think all year we’ve done a pretty good job of that actually, so I like the feeling in the room. Hopefully we come out and have a good start.”
There’s no telling how either team will play at the outset of Game 3. But it’s easy to predict what the atmosphere will be like from the second warm-ups begin: electric.